Thornton didn't live up to Bruins' expectations

Updated: December 1, 2005, 8:17 PM ET
By Barry Melrose | Special to ESPN.com

The Boston Bruins have been desperate, in a freefall. We knew something was going to happen, whether it was a trade or a firing.

But I don't think anyone in the hockey world thought Joe Thornton would be traded. He was the face of the Bruins, he was the captain of the Bruins, he was as popular as anyone in Boston.

Joe Thornton
Jerome Davis/Icon SMIJoe Thornton failed to take the B's past the second round of the playoffs.

After he signed a new three-year, $20 million deal this offseason, Thornton was expected to lead the Bruins to the playoffs and help them challenge for the Stanley Cup. Expectations were high.

But the Bruins have had a terrible start, they've lost nine of their last 10 games and something had to be done.

The Bruins thought Thornton hasn't done what great players do -- what a Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito or Ray Bourque have done -- which is lead their teams in tough situations, lead their teams to a Cup. Thornton hasn't taken the Bruins past the second round of the postseason since the team drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 1997. The past three seasons, the B's have been ousted in the first round.

This trade would not have happened if Thornton lived up to expectations.

Now, this is Joe Thornton's wakeup call. He has to decide whether he wants to be remembered as an underachieving player, a good player or a great player. With his size, speed and toughness, he should be one of the best players in the world. I am sure Thornton is shocked and disappointed. But he can either feel sorry for himself and quit or kick himself in the butt and make things better.

Thornton can use this as a motivational factor and help the San Jose Sharks turn things around (they've lost 10 straight), help Patrick Marleau turn it up a notch.

Now, Thornton is the best player in this four-player trade, but the trio the Bruins are inheriting isn't exactly chopped liver.

Young defenseman Brad Stuart will go into Boston and be its best defenseman. He's that good. Marco Sturm is a fast skater and a 30-goal scorer. He's going to give the Bruins some guts. Wayne Primeau is a solid veteran two-way player. These three players are going to have the same disappointment as Thornton, but they can also use it as motivation to help the Bruins improve.

That will now be the challenge for Bruins coach Mike Sullivan. Some of Thornton's Boston teammates are going to be shocked and angry by this move, and Sullivan has to channel those emotions into wins. Let's face it, that emotion hasn't been showing in their play on the ice. Call it shock therapy.

Things can only get better for these two teams. They can't get much worse.

Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN.

Barry Melrose

NHL studio analyst
Former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose is an NHL studio analyst for ESPN.